Towards a Complete Order


When Gregory Markopoulos (1928­ – 92) made his first 16mm film Psyche in 1947, at only 19 years old, the American avant-garde cinema was still in its infancy, having been ushered in only four years earlier by Maya Deren’s ground-breaking Meshes of the Afternoon. By 1974, when he wrote the following text, Markopoulos was recognized as one of the pioneers of independent filmmaking—he founded the New American Cinema Group alongside Jonas Mekas and Shirley Clarke and others, and made two of the movement’s key works in Twice a Man (1963) and The Illiac Passion (1964 – 67). Leaving the U.S. towards the end of the 1960s to live the rest of his life in Europe with his partner Robert Beavers, he set his work aside from that of his contemporaries by withdrawing his films from distribution and conceiving a monographic archive called Temenos that would be dedicated to his vision. Markopoulos was also a prolific writer, whose essays appeared regularly in international journals or Temenos publications. “Towards a Complete Order” sees the filmmaker at the threshold of a decision to reedit his life’s work into a single unified film (“The prints that exist have become but work prints…”). When it was finally completed in 1991, Eniaios was 70­ – 80 hours long and intended to be shown only at a remote site in the Greek countryside. Its ongoing premiere has taken place at this location every four years since 2002, with the next installment planned for June 2016.

—Mark Webber

The recent publication Film as Film: The Collected Writings of Gregory J. Markopoulos (The Visible Press, 2014) is available in New York from Anthology Film Archives or online from thevisiblepress.com

 

I

There is a cascade here, and above it another, and above that one many other waterfalls. These encourage. Distance encourages the ascent towards the Future. Nothing, of course, seems in distance. The pine trees themselves unmoving. Distance.

Gregory J. Markopoulos, circa 1965. Photograph by Jerome Hiler

Where the clouds seem to separate, they merge again, then separate over and over, revealing peaks, and beyond those peaks other peaks. Confidence. Hope. Each one from time to time like a reddish beacon in the night.

There is a freedom in filmmaking which is only vouchsafed for a few select Individuals. This is not by choice but through Celestial Collisions. It is like unknown sounds; sounds searched for. Sounds away from the horrors of Paris. Sounds away from the Art World Families who misuse their servants and their artists. Sounds away from those who sell artistic indulgences. Sounds away from museums converted into studios. Sounds away from fraudulently made films. Sounds away from bad money. Sounds away from the Balzacian characters who hold the world together through false translations and propaganda. Sounds and more sounds in order to reach a tenet which is a further step towards the ultimate Temenos: A tenet of the Temenos is that the Voice is the Spectator As Receiver.

Robert Beavers, “Film is something special—it has nothing to do with Art or Literature.” It is true. The truth is to say that film Is film. Nomore, no less. Structuralist lies will disappear like so much smoke; for it is the sparks of a fire that count. It is the sparks that make the blazing fire. Each spark is the indecision which has led to the ultimate decision. This may not be taught. This may not be learned. This may not be imitated. It is the immaterial breath of Visible Creation.

To measure pieces of black film in anticipation of the growth of a film is to hold steadfast to the sole freedom of filmmaking. This is the necessary love of one’s work. I know and feel that a film frame will or will not do. Its length is undecipherable. Its duration is undecipherable. The elements of filmmaking can never be discernable to the critic or to the film spectator, as such. The critic, the film spectator can no more know the elements of film than he can know the total aspects of the changing winds.

Robert Beavers, “Something is only creative if it grows…” For the few who possess that freedom which is filmmaking, there is no need to experiment. To experiment is not to grow; it is to falter; it is to digress into the uncertainties of the Modern. Yet a film grows; as a human being grows. It grows unseen. More likely it grows at unexpected moments. And if it is truly film it grows through Unthinkable Instances. Without this kind of growth there is no meaning; the sun cannot and will never cast its light upon the shimmering waterfall Forever.

Yet the film continues to be what it is not; and, the filmmaker who possesses the binding freedom of his filmmaking is expected to be grateful; to show signs of gratitude. Film continues as a ruin. As in the Arts, Film is treated as a unique orphan who must be placed. As in the Arts, Film is treated as a social experiment, and the scribes write about it day and night. As in the Arts, Film is treated as an exceptional but retarded personality who must perform. The shame of performances, the shame of festivals, the shame of publications coordinated for the evil aspects of mass education, is apparent everywhere; apparent everywhere with the usual morsels of economic publicity and catalogue; apparent everywhere with its bad monies and grim politicizing. Add to this the new call for private patronage under the very aegis of the foundations themselves and one has a total impression of the Degeneration of Man’s Sensibilities. Seferis, “The statues are not the ruins—we are the ruins.”

 

II

The time is past when anyone and everyone could take what he would from a particular Art, from a particular Film. Those decades have diminished, and the poverty of expression and creation follow, with the audience suspended in its death-like existence as if awaiting the marvellous orthodox angels of Byzantium to appear before the great Intention and the Complete Order of the Temenos.

With the arrival of the Twenty-First Century and the building of the rectangular foundation of the Temenos suggested before the glorious benediction of the Madonna of Orsanmichele, become at the Sight of the inspiring voice, “A square …”, will there be a respect for the filmmaker’s Intention; for the films of Beavers and Markopoulos: the Temenos with its catalogue of films.

For each Art, for each Film, for each work there is only one intention which vanishes the moment the work is completed. It ascends and disperses its benediction upon the Future audience; upon the Future spectator; upon the Future Noble Historian.

Each Intention is like a roseate of Worth. It is not a confused conglomeration of ideas. Because of this single Intention, the Art is The Art, the Film is The Film, the work is The Work. The experiments, the essays into popular, confused, perverse attitudes, feelings and thoughts, all without substance, are dismissed for what they are.

It must be understood that what is offered before this single Intention is not to be confused, is not to be contaminated by the presence of the spectator; in this case, the film spectator, the Film Spectator of the Temenos. Where the source is certain, the work is The Work. The Work above all needs no other justification save its existence; for it is the brilliant, inherent values that have made possible its existence. Thus, the film spectator is present not to measure his intelligence or general understanding, but to know the work: The Film Conscience.

The Film Conscience: to experience the Film Conscience is to acknowledge as Light, Sound, and Image the moral attributes of a particular work by Beavers or Markopoulos. The philosophic pretext that this is attainable in the commercial works is one of the worst factors of film education, of film entertainment. The commercial film ages because it has been put to a perverse and unsuspecting purpose. This purpose, this guise is the central notion of those who love film, who embellish film, and who have failed to understand that film has only in a few instances existed as Film. They are the destroyers of that part of film which no longer exists, Enthusiasm: neither for the film spectator nor for the filmmaker.

 

III

The founding of the Temenos has been proceeding like the fall of snow near the highest peaks of the Dents du Midi. Snowflakes and changing Light have revealed the Truth of All Appearances. Day to day the Intention has become clearer. After breakfast, feeding the birds, passing the day, and often extraordinary journeys to other countries in order to elevate the purpose of the Temenos, the undercurrent of energy has flowed unceasingly at very great Cost; and, not often without its dangers.

But it has been here, before the Dents du Midi, that the startling Decision has been made. It was made one hour, some weeks ago, after breakfast, after feeding the birds, in the sight of the wondrous waterfall. Action was taken. Dedications were discarded and left to the mystery of their creditors. And, the prints that now exist have become but work prints, a fitting jest to the speculators of my work, known and unknown.

When the future film spectator of the Temenos will wonder how the handsome square has been achieved, he may well contemplate in the archives of the Temenos the very source of the Success. One fact he will surely realize, that it is in color that the word Love originated. The justified Province being Greece. He will understand, the Future Elected One, that the Complete Order was necessary and inevitable; that with the disintegration of the general public conscience, the Direction Was Ascertained. Like the power and sight of clouds forming against Granite Heights in Powerful Allegiance, so the Future Architecture of the Temenos: spaces seeing and sitting more airy than the flight of birds.

Where hearts meet the Film Bestowed!

Where minds meet the Film Bestowed!

In Distant Years the Future Elected One of the Temenos will repeat, “It is like being in a rainbow!” For it is for him who deserves it that it has been built. It will be his hand which has elevated and protected the thousands of feet of film originals. Indeed, it will be his voice.

 

 

GREGORY MARKOPOULOS AT WORK
An Excerpt From My Unpublished Diaries

A hot sweating day. We were walking with P. Adams Sitney and it was so hot we had to stop for a cold malted milk, only that much money we had left, and since we were passing 10th Street, we decided to bring one for Gregory too.

Gregory was in the middle of editing. Strips of film all over the place. He was running the film on the projector, from hand, film on the floor, and was cutting pieces out, by eye, against the light. He rented the projector for two days, that’s all the money he had, he has to return it tomorrow, he has to do all cutting today. Hasn’t been out for two days, not even for eating. We looked at him in amazement as he was cutting the strips just like that, no viewer, and he seemed to know exactly what he was doing.

Whenever I visit Gregory I am amazed how organized he is, how organized his room is, every piece—you can count every piece, you see every piece, not like my own mess. Anyway, Gregory was editing, with film strips hanging down from the ceiling to the floor, so that the south side of his room looked like a willow tree, really, with film strips down to the floor. On the table little strips and pieces of film, laid out like some kind of game but it’s a sequence really, a scene.

Nothing on the walls, as if he had just moved in. A shelf with some binders and by the door a gift from Brakhage, he said, a strip of hand-colored CinemaScope film. Even as we were leaving, the last image of Gregory was him standing there by the projector with scissors in hand, ready to cut the film as it was just about to appear from the gate.

—Jonas Mekas
May 16, 1965

Contributors

Gregory Markopoulos

Jonas Mekas

JONAS MEKAS has often been called "the godfather of American avant-garde cinema."

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